Sunday, June 23, 2024

Separated at Draft: Asami Sato and Kate Kane

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When The Legend of Korra first aired, I was far from the first person to make the connection that Asami’s history was more than a little similar to that of Bruce Wayne’s. Traumatic murder of a parent at a young age. Part of an absurdly wealthy family to the point that she’s more or less Republic City royalty. Genius intellect, lives in a giant mansion with a butler, highly trained in martial arts, and uses the coolest gadgets. Then Book 4 rolls around, and we find out that Future Industries not only rebuilt Republic City, but modernized it too.

Sounds like Bruce Wayne to me! “Asami is Batman!” we said. And yeah, that was a pretty fun idea. But then the series finale dropped, and it all just clicked. Asami Sato isn’t Batman. She never was. Asami Sato is Kate Kane. The Batwoman.

To say that I have strong feelings about these two characters is quite the understatement, but beyond that I’m able to remain unbiased for this piece since the similarities just kept growing. Also because I love them both so much. The connection between Kate—who is also Gotham royalty etc—and Asami had always been there, but during James Tynion IV’s debut Detective Comics Rebirth arc it nearly grew into a one-to-one comparison.

Clearly, I have some sort of “type” in favorite fictional characters. Seriously, there are even meta-textual similarities between these two women that goes all the way up to the company producing the content in the first place.



The most difficult part is deciding where to even start. Part of me wants to tell you the story of both of them until they deviate, but I’m not sure that’s the best way to do this. There’s just so much to unpack that we’d have to backtrack quite a bit regardless of the method. So, I guess I’ll work from the top down. From development to “where they are now”, as it were.

…right after we get the single most glaring one out of the way:

Neither are straight. Kate Kane is a lesbian. Asami Sato is bisexual.

Not Pictured: Kate Kane’s happy ending/wedding, or those other two dorks kissing. YET.

A Tale of Two Pre-Productions

It’s a relatively well known fact for Legend of Korra fans that Asami was originally conceived as a tall, green eyed femme fatale. An equalist spy who dates Mako to get close to Korra and betray them. But, during the planning phases of Book 1, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the Executive Producers/Creators of both Korra and the original Avatar series, decided that they liked her so much they made her one of the heroes instead. This, of course, lead to a rather interesting development:

Asami’s character design was left unchanged, along with the first half of her plot beats throughout the course of Book 1. She still hits Mako with her moped, still asks him out, gets him to meet her dad, sponsors his team, etc. The biggest twist was that there wasn’t a twist. Asami is just that compassionate.


Now, Kate’s case is a bit more murky. Her original design is most likely not the one you’ve seen, if you’ve seen her at all. The modern Kate Kane—not the Silver Age created-out-of-gay-panic Kathy Kane who got married to Batman, hysterically enough—was first introduced in 2006’s 52 #7 as a scorned ex-lover to Renee Montoya’s larger noir detective story. Her character design evokes the same femme fatale tropes (plus she’s also tall with green eyes) that Asami’s does, though with a reversed color scheme.

Of course, she’s not actually a femme fatale either. She only looks like one.

Her batsuit used to have high heels, too. Everyone hated it.

However, it doesn’t end there. While Asami’s character itself was altered—as was Kate’s, though this was far more logical retcon—Kate’s design was completely overhauled over the next few years to have her better represent the kind of person she needed to be. Not just a standard run-of-the-mill “lipstick lesbian” in her outward appearance, but someone who gave the middle finger to typical gender roles, embodying a rather fluid mix of traditionally masculine and feminine traits to better reflect her personality.

And the end result:

In the 40s/50s, lesbians got that naval star tattooed on their inner wrists as a way to signal others without being outed.

Sounds like Asami, doesn’t it?

DC/Dark Horse Secret Origins Special #1

Curiously, the proverbial heart of Kate’s origin story—and her entire foundation as a character—isn’t relevant to this piece in the way you would think. Being dishonorably discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) just before her final semester at West Point was what forced her to become Batwoman, rather than what many assume the reason to be: being present for her mother and sister’s murder on her twelfth birthday.

It’s tangentially related to the sequence of events that lead Kate to become a vigilante, but all it really did, narratively, was push her to become more like her father and follow the Kane family tradition of military service. Which is something she would have done anyway, and she’d still be a lesbian, so she’d still be Batwoman.

Just like how Asami would still have idolized her father, wanting to follow in his footsteps and keep the family business of engineering brilliance going, even if her mother had never been murdered during the robbery. The fact that they both belong to an oppressed and often disenfranchised people would still ring true as well. Kate’s been Jewish since the day she was born, just as Asami has always been a non-bender.

Both women proved themselves prodigies in their chosen field, as their fathers’ had decades prior. Hiroshi Sato was once considered the world’s most brilliant industrialist, and Colonel Jacob Kane has a record of military service that can only be described as extremely classified.

I hear South Misunderstandistan is wonderful this time of year.

Kate was the top of her class at West Point, rising to the rank of Cadet Captain over her entire battalion. Asami grew to become some kind of MacGyver-wunderkind who redesigns an entire city’s infrastructure (transit, water, electricity, zoning, etc), can build whatever they may need at the moment out junk, and explicitly understands how everything works. And also how to make it explode.

As a direct result of the murder of Gabrielle Kane and Yasuko Sato, Kate and Asami have extensive mastery in a variety of weapons, martial arts and acrobatics.

Though Kate’s training is admittedly far more comprehensive, which makes sense considering her role. Think a Green Beret multiplied by a Navy SEAL and then concentrated through the mentality of a “one-man-army”.

So…y’know. Batman.

Additionally, their mentality towards combat is rather similar. Asami goes for the most direct route to disabling an opponent, as she was most likely instructed in how to fight benders more than anything else. They’re her biggest threat, and her dad was an Equalist. She can’t attack at range, but they can. It comes down to closing the gap and taking them down as fast as possible. If she didn’t have the glove, it’s heavily implied that she’d be breaking a lot of bones.

Kate is in pretty much the same boat. Except she does break those bones. She’s got a welcome aversion to She-Fu and exploits her environment in ways that are so damn obvious Batman just wouldn’t consider it. Smothered alive by giant demon centipedes with Wonder Woman in a pitch black cave? Well. They’re bugs. So she starts splatting them. Because they’re bugs. Duh doi.

Need to take down the guy who once broke Batman’s spine? Rock. No, really. She bashed Bane’s face with a rock.

They’re both considered by the media to be “daddy’s little girl” and a Rich Idiot With No Day Job, when anyone who meets them for more than fifteen seconds immediately realizes just how wrong that is. The first part, at least.

Initially, Asami didn’t have a job (supposedly), and while it’s implied that Kate does contribute quite a bit to the community of Gotham City, since in order to be a socialite and relevant you actually need to do things, the specifics there have never been clear. But, neither of them could ever be described as “daddy’s little girl” aside from when they quite literally were.

The Part Where It Gets Seriously Weird

Before we got to the bigger bombshell (pun entirely intended!) moments, and why Kate and Asami have a near-identical moral compass, there’s a bunch of these not-so-little side-connections that I can’t leave out. They’re just so specific and yet, they exist in both of these women’s lives. Like how Kate and Asami met a romantic partner, who would eventually become a detective and teammate, during an automobile incident.

Notice I did not say accident.

This would be about 10x as funny if Mako was a cop at the time.

Or how they both met the loves of their lives at a fancy city gala held in honor for that very person?

Okay, it was the GCPD Charity Ball, but it still counts!

Or how, due to a variety of factors—bad writing, executive meddling, forcible change in creative team/animation studio; take your pick—they spent an extended period of time acting so absurdly out of character and moronic, along with everyone else in the story, that you really weren’t sure why you were even watching/reading this anymore?

I almost did, Asami. Almost.

….or that they’re both the little spoon…

…or that they forged a strong connection with an actual demigod by saving the world together…

Also tasers gloves.

Or how both of their dads serve as primary antagonists and oversee operations on a major metropolitan area from the bridge of an airship—right that’s the bombshell!

Sins of their Fathers

This is where it all comes together. See, for quite some time Jacob Kane’s major misstep with his daughter was not telling her that they never found Beth’s body the day she was murdered. That Kate’s twin sister could be alive out there somewhere, despite the fact that he spent the better part of a decade trying to find her and came up with nothing.

It’s a very dangerous situation, since it would be cruel to get Kate’s hopes up with no evidence, but at the same time she does deserve the truth. And maybe he’d have told her, someday, long after he’d accepted that there was no chance in hell he’d ever find her body.

Except he didn’t get that chance, because Beth returned to Gotham City as Alice, an insane supervillain who only spoke in verses lifted from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and thought herself the title character. She attempted to drown Gotham in cyanogen chloride, which is basically cyanide. She also happened to be the new leader of the same cult that once stabbed Kate through the heart, believing her to be the chosen sacrifice—look, just go read 52 and Elegy if you want that story.

Point is, Jacob lied, and Kate discovered that the madwoman she’d been fighting was her twin sister all along…just before she fell to her supposed death.

This is emotionally devastating in the original arc (this is a retelling of it for new readers, so it’s more apropo here) because before this moment, you didn’t even know she had a sister.

Right, so until recently, this was the biggest schism between Kate and her father Jacob, and it’s where this article would, originally, have started to wrap itself up. But, just as Jacob and Kate were beginning to mend things between them, the other secret popped out. The one about him being the leader and mastermind behind an elite paramilitary organization with technology far ahead of its time operating under the singular goal of ensuring that what happened to his family would never happen again.

Now, doesn’t that sound awfully familiar?

This is why you don’t have a secret base with windows, Tim. Seriously…

Just as Asami unwittingly led her friends and allies into a trap within her own home, so too did Kate by trusting her father. She brought him into the Belfry (think the Batcave, but in the center of Gotham and way more bleeding edge) as an expert on the new threat they were facing, dubbed The Colony, as they operated like an elite military unit. Turns out, he’s the one in charge, and knew she’d do this after his soldiers successfully captured Batman.

Both fathers try to get their daughters to join the cause, now that they know the truth. Kate and Asami are forced to make a choice between siding with what little family they have left and what they know to be morally right. And they do make the same choice, but with Kate it’s not that simple, partly because of what the Colony actually is.

The Colony is a sanctioned branch of the U.S. Army tasked explicitly with combating the worst evils that threaten the country by any means necessary. Jacob Kane did not create the Colony, nor did he co-opt it. His government tasked him with a mission, which just so happened to coincide with his own greater goal. Even when they do go rogue, it wasn’t for any selfish need on Jacob’s part. He doesn’t even get to escape with them, but they still carry on.

Compare and Contrast!

The Equalists are straight-up violent revolutionaries who effectively aim to commit genocide. They take over an entire city with the intention to keep expanding their reach until bending is wiped off the face of the planet. Now, that is impossible, but the Equalists still kill God knows how many people to accomplish their goal, and manage to destroy an entire naval fleet. They systematically eliminate any possible form of resistance; the police force, the council, and all benders within the city limits. There’s no real nuance here.

They thrive on rage and prejudice. Everything is personal.

It’s important to understand that Jacob Kane is not Hiroshi Sato, just as the Colony cannot be equated to the Equalists.

Jacob’s grief didn’t manifest itself into anything besides grief. While his methods in this arc are arguably beyond acceptable losses—killing hundreds of Americans to save hundreds of thousands—he’s not doing this for himself.

Hiroshi lost himself in his mourning and lust for revenge, turning the love he had for his wife into a delusion of righteousness. And this disparity is explicitly reflected in how the rest of this plays out for the both of them.


Family Ties

None of this makes Asami’s decision easier; it just makes Kate’s harder since there is so much more going on here. Jacob isn’t even a villain. He’s just the antagonist. A Well-Intentioned Extremist. Barely.

I did a photoset of all the times people have asked Kate to serve. Most of it was extremely manipulative. This was not one of those times.

You need to understand. Kate has dreamt of something like this ever since her dishonorable discharge. All she’d ever wanted to do was serve. It was the only thing that gave her purpose. So when she relinquished it to uphold her integrity—she could have lied to her commanding officer about being gay, but didn’t—she fell into a downward spiral. And it wasn’t pretty.

Eventually, she “ran into” her cousin Bruce (yup, look it up) as Batman outside of a bar, after having defended herself from a mugger. He helps her up to her feet, and vanishes into the night…but not before planting that idea in her head.

Not just the easy one, that it could be anyone under that mask. But that the batsignal isn’t just a warning, or a call for help. It was also a call to arms. She starts operating as a vigilante, her father finds out, and instead of shutting her down, he supports her. Realizes that she’s not wrong in that this is the only real way she can still serve. He calls in his old unit to train her. And they put her through hell and back, over and over again until she was finally ready.

Why did he keep the wig?!

So, here’s her father, revealing to her once again that he’d been lying, and in a reality where Beth had never returned, or Kate had never discovered what he hid from her…she’d have said yes. She’d have said yes because this isn’t a costume for her. It’s a uniform, and her father is offering a real one. Quite possibly a better one, too. It’s everything she could have ever wanted in a position like this. You can see the temptation as she rolls it around in her head, despite feeling betrayed all over again.

But, because of what happened with Beth, she fights him. After all, it’s not like she can trust a single damn word that comes out of his mouth anymore. It’s more than that, though, and I’m trying not to spend too much time on Kate, but the fact of the matter here is that there’s even deeper reasoning for why she doesn’t side with her father.

It’s not entirely that she doesn’t trust him, or even that he’s killing people. She always knew that her father did some really shady stuff for the government, but never the specifics. Rather, it’s that he just can’t see what he’d be taking away from her.

Kate has served two flags. Two ideals that she tried to make her own. The Stars and Stripes, and the Bat. That is to say, she has never worked under Batman; she has never followed him personally. Greg Rucka said it best in a 2009 interview with Newsarama where he explained that it’s “…the difference between following an individual into battle or following a flag – a symbol. In the latter, you’re taking up that flag yourself as your own.” But the military, her father’s military, didn’t want “people like her” serving the country, so she found the Bat instead.

I like the buzz cut, but her uniform looks infinitely better with the classic bob.

She has worked alongside the other vigilantes of Gotham for years—in current continuity it’s around seven; trust me I did the math—and not once, not one single time have they ever told her to stop. They have never told her “No.” They have never taken her for granted. They have never abandoned her for who she is. They all understand that they’re on the same side, fighting essentially the same fight, with the same mission. It doesn’t matter where any of them come from, as long as they do their jobs.

It’s what she thought serving in the military would be, in a sense. It’s a form of unity and acceptance that parallels Asami’s experience with the “new Team Avatar”. She’s not a bender, but that’s not important to them. She can still help by being herself, and they want her to help. They want her there. Hell, they need her there.

So, for Kate, joining her father isn’t just putting aside all of the lies and manipulation—even if his only goal was to give her a better life, which he already succeeded in—it would also be abandoning the duty she defined for herself.

No matter how great the cause he’s pitching, she can’t toss people to the curb like the Army did to her. Same as how Asami can’t dedicate her life to hurting others since she knows exactly how much pain that brings. Even still, Jacob, much like Hiroshi, tries to make amends before all is said and done. It doesn’t work.

Is that TIM DRAKE in the background? Doing Red Robin things?! GASP

AsamihiroshiThen, once it becomes overwhelmingly clear that Kate and Asami won’t follow them, they stop trying to convince them.

There’s no point to it anymore, even though their daughters continue to oppose them with everything they’ve got.

Thing is, Jacob never retaliates. He never fights back. He never strikes Kate, no matter how hard she hits him. There’s even a moment where she puts herself in the direct line of fire between him and his goal.

But, unlike Hiroshi, Jacob orders everyone to move on to the next target, because her life is still the most important.

As long as she’s safe, it doesn’t matter if she hates him.

Justified. So, so justified, no matter how painful it is to watch.

Hiroshi, though…Hiroshi tries to kill his own daughter. He corners her in a hangar, and attempts to violently crush her to death with a mecha-tank. Because she has betrayed him, of course. Nothing she could do or say could convince him otherwise. That she hadn’t been “turned” by those disgusting benders. She’s dead to him. There’s no hesitation. It’s just murder.

In the end, they’re both taken down by their daughters. They’re both brought to justice, even if the larger problem—whether it be the omnipresent League of Shadows who might not even exist or non-bender oppression—isn’t solved by arresting them. Hiroshi attempts to run after Asami refuses to kill him. Jacob tries to use a teleporting airship.

One Liner game is A+ as always, Kate.

Neither are successful.

Asami and Kate: Sisters in Suffering

What more is there really to say that I haven’t already? Aside from the fact that Jacob’s alive and Hiroshi’s dead, this is where the story ends. For now. While Asami will never get the chance to mend her relationship with her father, despite trying to in what little time they had left, it’s not out of the cards for Kate. Not entirely, at least. It’ll be hard. Harder than the first time, but if she wants to get there, they’ll make it work.

(Spoilers from the future: They did! Mostly.)

Plus, it’d be super awkward during the high holidays if Kate and Jacob just hated each other from across the table. Which inevitably puts Beth in the middle. Who isn’t dead, by the way. Anymore. She died from the fall, but the cult that believed her a prophet brought her back to life. And then she saved her sister from that vampire I mentioned waaaaaaaaaaaaaay at the top of the page with that link referencing controversial narrative choices. So I guess the moral of the story is…

Don’t lie to your kids about terrorists, dead siblings and conspiracies? Yeah, that sounds about right.

All images courtesy of DC Comics and Viacom. Gifs made by Kylie.

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